Written by Alex Brazeau
Have you heard of Yung Lean yet? If you have, that’s probably about all you could say… that you’ve heard of him—though it probably won’t stay that way for long. We first stumbled upon the seventeen-year-old Scandinavian rapper and his crew, the Sad Boys, when someone on Facebook posted a link to a blog poking fun at his music video for “Hurt”. Now, roughly twelve months later, a whole lot seems to have changed, with his first appearance in Canada taking place on Bluesfest’s Blacksheep stage coming just a couple of nights after a pair of sold-out shows at Webster Hall in New York City. It was evident, from just a quick glance into the crowd of a few hundred teens, the once-awkward kid who rose to Internet fame as a YouTube star from Stockholm, Sweden was undoubtedly another pick of the new youth advisory panel, which included twelve high-schoolers, in an attempt to reach and cultivate a new generation of Bluesfest lovers.
Part of the wave of underground hip hop acts making an appearance in place of some of the more household names that Bluesfest has been known to feature in the past (think this year’s Action Bronson, Childish Gambino, and Danny Brown bookings versus Drake, A$AP Rocky, and Kanye West, of years past) Yung Lean seems to have amassed quite the following of hardcore fans for his short time in the game. Truth be told, we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as he emerged onto the stage in a ripped Ed Hardy t-shirt and Burberry visor, accompanied by two DJs and a hype man. Not one of them looked much older than the crowd of mostly high-school-age females who were pressed up against the barrier, like sardines in a can, waiting for the show to start.
When the bass dropped and he started to rap over the futuristic synth-heavy beat, it was still unclear of what you were going to see; but, if you had any doubt, the few hundred teens packed in front of the stage rapping along with him or staring with their eyes wide certainly knew what they were in for—and they went nuts. Bouncing around the stage, he moved through a setlist that basically read like the playlist on his YouTube page. By the time he hit his third song he was moving down into the photographer’s trench and up against the barrier where everyone in the first few rows—and I mean EVERYONE—started grabbing and pulling at his torn and stretched Ed Hardy t-shirt while screaming at the top of their lungs before he finally pulled away to make his way back onto the stage to finish off the rest of his set.
In terms of the actual performance, the thumping bass, which left him competing with the sound coming from the speakers pushing him to yell at times, often muffled Yung Lean’s voice even further distorting the sound. The backing tracks played by his young DJs sounded more like full versions of each song, leading to the clearer vocals drowning out his own live voice while he performed. To be fair, these are more technical issues that can be worked out with a little bit of prep and practice. What was surprising was that his energy and presence were on point for his young age and what must be the relatively new experience of performing on stage. In all, though we didn’t really enjoy his rap style or lyrical content, it was pretty entertaining show from a young up-and-coming rapper. Even if it was something you couldn’t exactly get into, all the screaming kids around me were definitely having different kind of experience… they were having a very emotional time with Yung Lean.
We closed out the night out with dope sets by two solid Canadian DJs, Montreal’s Jacques Greene (who delivered an intoxicating mix of unique house beats) followed by Ryan Hemsworth, a rising electronic/hip hop DJ from Halifax, who put together an amazing set that kept the crowd moving until it was finally time to shut down for the night. Check pics from their sets below along with links to their Soundcloud so you can check out some of our own homegrown DJs and producers.